On the Tracks of the Great White Shark

May 23, 2014 by dyertrust

2014 marked the eleventh year of Dr. Primo Micarellis returning to Kleinbaai in South Africa to continue his study on the behaviour and biology of Great White Sharks. Dr. Micarelli is the Responsible Scientific Coordinator of the Italian Scientific Expedition called Sulle Orme Del Grande Squalo Bianco, which directly translates to On the Tracks of the Great White Shark - a research group from the Centro Studi Squali (Study Center of Sharks) situated in Massa Marittima, Tuscany, Italy.

This year was the first time for the Primo Group, as they became known, to use Marine Dynamics Shark Tours as their operator of choice for this expedition. Marine Dynamics is and Eco Tourism partner of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT) and serves as a daily platform, facilitating data capturing for the Great White Shark research projects that are currently ongoing through the DICT.

After weeks of organization, it was great to finally meet the team at Saxon Lodge, which they call their second home. Caron and Dave have been hosting this group annually, making sure they have a relaxing venue to return to after every days hectic activities.

The coordination of activities for a group of 20 people is always a huge challenge, when we started the negotiations with this group we very quickly realized that there is a language barrier. Luck was on our side, as we have a wonderful young lady by the name of Francesca N. Manca, from Udine in Italy, who we met in 2012 when she joined our Marine Dynamics and Dyer Island Cruises family as a guide on our Whale Eco Trips and Shark Cage diving operations. Wilfred Chivell, owner of Marine Dynamics and founder of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, invited Francesca to accompany the group as translator, coordinator and guide and we flew her over at our own cost from Italy to assist us with the Primo Group.

Without Francesca the language barrier during their visit would have been a struggle, as she in addition to coordinating the group also translated our lectures and presentation to ensure that the operations of Marine Dynamics and, research/scientific achievements of the DICT was conveyed clearly to all the students.

Dr. Micarellis return every year ensures that they have a study sample consistent over a long period of time, which in turn contributes to data credibility. Since 2005 there has been a very important colloboration developed between Dr. Micarelli and Dr. Emilio Sperone from the University Calabria, who shares the Scientific coordination for the expidition with Dr. Micarelli, as well as the coordination of the data collection. 2015 will be the 10th year of their colloboration and they have developed a very strong relationship. He is accompanied yearly by a wide array of students from various Universities. This time the participants were from Universities of Roma, Ferrara, Marche, Pavia, Udine, Napoli and Calabria. Occasionally students join him for a return visit, but more often than not it is different students visiting every time.

Having new students joining ever year can have its own challenges, such as making sure that the data is comparative and consistent. But this is no problem for Dr. Micarelli, as the first day of their arrival is always spent on coordinating everyones activities and duties on the boat during their trips, which includes a series of lecturesabout the methods for collecting ethological data, principles and the use of photography and underwater videography, biology of sharks, with a special focus on the Great White Shark, the evolution of elasmobranchs, strategies of elasmobranchs conservation and discussion fo daily data collection.

One person will be in charge of taking photos on the lower deck, one on the upper deck one person takes water sampling data (Temperature and records depth of location), whilst other people are responsible for observing and documenting certain types of behaviour of the Great White Sharks that visit the boat (spy hopping, lateral and parallel passing etc.).

Two dedicated videographers, Daniele Giglioli and Enrico Rabboni is in charge of filming the expedition as well as certain aspects of the study. Enrico Rabboni invented a special decoy, in the shape of a seal, with a GoPro camera installed in the stomach region of the decoy. This decoy takes footage of sharks approaches from beneath, making it easier for the group to later on record and identification the individual sharks which visited the boat, as well as distinctive features, and very importantly the way in which the sharks interact with the decoy, as well as the time spent by each shark investigating the decoys. This was also the first year the Enrico used a drone to film from overhead, and everyone is very interested to see what is going to come out of this aspect of the study.

Interestingly, there is also a second decoy used (exclusively by Dr. Micarelli) and part of the study is to see what the difference in approach and interest is to the two different decoys. The GoPro decoy emits electromagnetism due to the electronics and the other decoy is a plain black decoy with no special features. For more information about their studies, please visit https://www.facebook.com/CentroStudiSquali.

The Primo Groups arrival on the 8th May 2014 coincided with a streak of bad weather we were having in Kleinbaai causing a very doom and gloom atmosphere as everyone was keen to get out to sea to start their data capturing, and reach their research goals for the trip. The 9th and 10th did not give them any leeway to go out to sea, so instead of sitting and worrying about the weather, the Dyer Island Conservation Trust presented the group with a lecture on the population dynamics and environmental influences on Great White Sharks in the Gansbaai Area. This study formed part of DICT Marine Biologist Alison Towners MSc, which she completed in 2012. She also presented them with glimpse of her current PhD study and gave them an overview of the research aspects the DICT supports, facilitates and finances. Other lectures offered included Oliver Jewell's lecture on the population study done by the DICT from 2007 to 2011, and a talk done on the Endangered African Penguin and our new project, the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary.

Eventually, on the 11th May 2014, the Centro Studi Squali made it onto the water, a gorgeous day with water temperature of 16.4C. This would be the first of five trips out of Kleinbaai harbor. Day two was just as glorious, and with a trained eye you could actually see the seafloor. A large 4.1m male Great White graced the students and crew with its presence for a short while a highlight of the day. A second trip for this group on this same day was dedicated to trying to observe a breaching Great White Shark an exercise where a decoy is towed slowly behind our boat, to imitate a swimming seal but alas, there was no breaches observed during this trip! The thirteenth turned out to show a sudden change in weather a moderate wind forced the crew to anchor in an area known as Joubertsdam, as the conditions around Dyer Island was not favorable, but this turned out to be good luck as the Primo Group saw numerous sharks during their excursion. Day 4 had them anchored in the same area, and this time they observed a vast number of Great White Sharks in one trip, including a 5m female, just as Dr.Micarelli decided to get into the cage for the first time is 3 years. As if this was not excitement enough, on their way back they were also fortunate enough to spot a small pod of Bottlenose Dolphin. Their last day, on the 15th May 2014, provided a spectacular sunrise, and a speedy male juvenile shark which launched itself and the GoPro decoy clear out of the water!! Kelly Baker and our wonderful crew kept this group happy during all of these excursions!

Dr. Primo Micarelli has led a life of science, he once taught as a Professor at universities, and he is still the owner of a wonderful Aquarium in Italy. The Aquarium Mondo Marino boasts different aquatic zones, where people can observe the spectacular underwater creatures which we so often do not have the opportunity to see in the wild. This Aquarium is also the home of the Centro Studi Squali, which leads the research division of Dr. Micarellis work.

There is also big focus on Environmental Education, and various tanks and touch zones provides hours of entertainment to hundreds of children and their families that visit the Aquarium. Their newest exhibit to the Aquarium Mondo Marino is known as the Explora Del Mondo Marino alle Terre Emerse where one can explore the evolution of the marine environment of a once submerged aquatic world. This exhibit boasts a life sized replica of a Great White Shark, a replica of a Megalodon Shark jaw, as well as examples of the evolution of Ammonites in particular. For more information please visit www.aquariummondomarino.com.

This is the start of a very exciting relationship between Marine Dynamics and the Centro Studi Squali, and we are looking forward to their next visit in 2015. Ciao!!

Logo Primo Group